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Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.

The Rundown

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: It's Sherrod's turn

Another day, another round of Democratic politicians who just so happened to decide to take a winter trip to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina. 

Here's the latest from the trail: 

  • Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown announced his "Dignity of Work" tour that will run through key early primary states, and his home state, which happens to be a pivotal one on the path to winning 270 Electoral College votes. 
  • Fresh off the unveiling of her exploratory committee, New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand held a press conference in Troy, New York where she reiterated her desire to run for president. During a question-and-answer session with reporters, she defended herself from donors who are frustrated she called on Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken to resign after accusations he groped women, she promised not to take money from corporate PACs or lobbyists and spoke out against super PACs. 
  • The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton is heading to New Hampshire in a move that will once again spark questions about whether he's considering a presidential bid. Last month, Moulton was part of a group of House Democrats to withhold votes from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership bid in exchange for promises of new blood at the top of the party. 
Ben Kamisar

Iowa newspapers call for King to resign as political woes deepen

Pressure continues to mount on Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King as his party begins to turn on him after a long history of racist comments, calling his electoral future into question. 

Bipartisan condemnations have been pouring in from Capitol Hill and now the White House, culminating in him being stripped of committee assignments and a resolution that disapproved of his most recent statement.

He's also facing criticism in his own backyard, as a credible primary challenger emerges.

Both the Des Moines Register and the Sioux City Journal penned op-eds telling King to resign his office. Part of the reasoning is that with no committee assignments, he is, as the Journal refers to him "an outcast within the body in which he serves." And both papers savaged King for, as the Register put it, having "made Iowa a laughing stock on the national stage with his offensive and absurd remarks." 

Neither paper's editorial board have been kind to King—both endorsed his 2018 opponent, citing his past rhetoric. 

King remains defiant—he said Tuesday on the radio show "The Ed Martin Movement"  that he will not resign and that he's confident that what I have done has been true and right and just and honest." 

His top GOP primary challenger, state Sen. Randy Feenstra, is using the controversy as a launching point for his primary bid. He's launched a website called "" that pans King for having "left us without a seat at the table" and criticized King as a "sideshow" that distracts from advancing conservative policy. 

King just narrowly survived his closest general election in years, so it's clear that the general electorate in his district is tiring of him. But Feenstra is betting that the trend, and King's latest turn in the spotlight, will help him flip the GOP primary electorate onto his side too. 

Ben Kamisar

Gillibrand on 2020: 'I’m going to run'

Add New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s name to the quickly-expanding list of Democratic presidential candidates. 

She’s announcing her exploratory committee on tonight’s episode of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS, which was filmed earlier today. Read more here from NBC News’ Jane C. Timm about her announcement and how Gillibrand matches up with the field. 

Ben Kamisar

What the 2020 Democrats focused on during Barr nomination hearings

Democratic senators and possible 2020 presidential candidates Amy Klobuchar, Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris all had a big opportunity Tuesday during William Barr's attorney general confirmation hearing.

As members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tasked with advising and consenting on Barr's nomination, the three possible White House hopefuls had time during the nationally televised hearings to make their points and question Barr. 

Certainly they all have issues they want to address based on their time on the committee, but there's no doubt the confirmation hearing will be looked at through the lens of 2020 (just as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation was last year). 

Here's a rundown of what each of the three senators asked of Barr during their questioning (UPDATED to include their second round of questioning later Tuesday afternoon): 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Klobuchar, who came out of the Kavanaugh hearings with a 2020 bump after Democrats lauded her tough questioning, started her questioning off pushing Barr on the government shutdown and the border wall. 

She then spent the majority of her time running through a battery of quick-hit questions: does Barr have confidence in FBI Director Christopher Wray; whether various actions by a president would constitute obstruction of justice; why he wouldn't commit to following the advice of Justice Department ethics officials on whether or not to recuse himself from the special counsel's probe; would he make the probe's findings public; would he recuse himself if he had a conflict with an investigation; and how he'd aim to protect voting rights. 

Klobuchar also elicited an eye-catching response from Barr when she asked if he would be open to the department jailing journalists for reporting. Barr kept the door open on that by replying that "there could be a situation where someone would be held into contempt."

On her second pass at Barr, she questioned Barr about the attorney general's loyalties during a constitutional crisis, asked him to review her bill on preventing abusers stalkers from obtaining firearms, and to support the Violence Against Women Act. 

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Booker's round of questioning was more subdued than his rounds of questioning during the Kavanaugh hearing, where he evoked "Spartacus" and got into a clash with Republicans over previously confidential documents.

This time, he focused primarily on criminal justice, on the heels of the bipartisan bill signed into law. 

He got Barr to commit to not using Justice Department resources on prosecuting marijuana crimes in states that have legalized the drug, with Barr saying he doesn't want to "upset settled expectations" and "reliance" on the Justice Department's past policy to ignore those violations of federal law. 

Confronting Barr on his record on mass incarcerations during his first stint as attorney general, Booker asked Barr to commit to studying "racial disparities and disparate impacts" of criminal justice policies (Barr said he would). And he ended on a personal note. 

"Sir, I was a young black guy in 1990s. I was a 20-something-year-old. And I experienced a dramatically different justice system," Booker said. 

During the afternoon portion of the hearing, Booker brought up Barr's old writings on LGBT rights, to which Barr said he's open to the law as it stands but wants "accommodation to religion." 

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

Harris stuck to similar themes as Booker and Klobuchar, a consequence of her being one of the final members of the committee to question Barr. 

She pushed Barr on states' rights on marijuana, on whether a wall would prevent the flow of drugs into America since most drugs come to America through legal ports of entry, and to definitively state why he might choose to disregard the agency's ethics board if they recommend he recuses from the special counsel investigation. 

And she called for the Justice Department to approach the drug epidemic as more of a public health response instead of a "lock-em-up" response, an important issue as she looks to frame her past work as a prosecutor for a Democratic primary electorate that could be distrustful of a former state law enforcement chief. 

"The war on drugs was an abject failure, America frankly has a crisis of addiction and putting the limited resources of our federal government into locking up people who suffer from a public health crisis is probably not the smartest use of taxpayer dollars," she said. 

"If confirmed, I'd ask you to take a look at the more recent perspective on the drug crisis." 

Later in the day, Harris pointed to the recent Washington Post story reporting that President Trump was concealing records related to meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin to ask if he thought that was against the law (Barr said he wasn't familiar with the underlying law).

And she peppered Barr with questions about the Justice Department's position on the ObamaCare lawsuit, put him on the record agreeing to address her concerns about voter suppression and on consent decrees with local police departments. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Klobuchar, Gillibrand inching closer to bid

Democratic politicians are so far making good on their pledges to "take the holidays" to decide whether to run for president — it seems like every day, another candidate is sending smoke signals about an impending bid. 

Here's our latest round-up of news from the 2020 trail, including the latest flirtations: 

  • Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday that her family "is on board" with a possible presidential bid. While she added that she is going to make "this decision on my own course," she noted that candidates sometimes use their families as a way out of running and that won't be the case here. 
  • New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand could announce her exploratory committee as soon as Tuesday's taping of CBS's "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," CBS reports
  • Priorities USA, the Democratic super-PAC that plans to support the party's nominee and blast President Trump, is shifting away from the traditional reliance on television and radio advertising, Politico reports, as it looks to change the way it wages the messaging wars in 2020. 
Monica Alba

Shutdown has kept Trump off golf course for longest stretch of his presidency

It's been 50 days since President Donald Trump has hit the links, marking his longest stretch without a golf outing since taking office. The government shutdown is at least partially to blame — his planned holiday break at Mar-a-Lago was cancelled as a result of the standoff, meaning Trump has now spent much of the last seven weeks at the White House in the midst of Washington's winter weather.  

Golf is typically a staple in the president’s weekend routine but the last time the president teed it up was on November 25, at the end of his Thanksgiving vacation in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Beyond what he’s dubbed the “Southern White House,” the president also frequently spends time on the golf course at his Bedminster, New Jersey property in the summer and fall. During the warmer months in Washington, Trump often makes weekend trips to his golf club in nearby Virginia.

Since the start of his administration, Trump has visited self-branded golf properties more than 160 times. It’s not always clear when he is playing a round of golf though, because the White House doesn’t normally acknowledge or confirm that is how the president is spending his time.

In the past, Trump has called the sport his “primary form of exercise!” But he is unlikely to golf again until the longest shutdown in history gets resolved or he decides to go to Florida — whichever comes first.

During this current golf-free stretch, Trump has traveled to Iraq and Germany for brief visits with soldiers, as well as a day trip to the border in Texas and went to Louisiana Monday to speak at the farm bureau convention.

As a candidate, Trump frequently criticized his predecessor for playing too many rounds of golf. (“Can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter,” he tweeted in 2014).

Shortly after the December lapse in funding, the president promised in a campaign email: “When our beautiful country’s national security is at stake, I will NEVER take a vacation.”  

With both sides dug in and deadlocked on any shutdown solution, Trump’s golf game also seems stalled indefinitely. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Trump takes aim at Warren again

President Trump has been running for reelection since he took office, both with direct efforts like fundraising and indirect efforts like trying to soften up his potential 2020 opponents. 

No Democratic hopeful has faced more incoming from the president than Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. He's tweeted about her at least 10 times since taking office, many times using a pejorative nickname referring to her claim of Native American ancestry, and has criticized her even more on the stump and during sessions with the media. 

Those attacks are continuing now that Warren is exploring a bid for president, most recently as Sunday evening on Twitter. 

Along with more on that latest barb, here's a roundup of what you may have missed on the 2020 beat over the last few days. 

  • Trump retweeted a quick clip of a recent Instagram Live video of Warren's where she cracks a beer in her kitchen and talks with her husband. In his tweets, he references the Battle at Little Bighorn and the massacre at Wounded Knee, controversial battles between Native Americans and U.S. forces in the 1800s. 
  • Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders—seen as one of Warren's top opponents in that he has the keys to a strong campaign organization and sits in a similar, progressive/populist lane as Warren does—is staffing up his digital team, according to Politico. Among those moves, Sanders is reportedly in talks to bring on the video team that made viral videos for New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during her Democratic primary last cycle. 
  • Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard apologized for her past statements on LGBT rights to CNN as she begins her presidential campaign.
  • Former Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is flirting with a challenge to President Trump, penned a new op-ed in USA Today where he accuses his party of being "stuck in the 1950s" both in its representative diversity and it's approach to problem-solving. 
  • NBC News' Benjy Sarlin took a look at how Washington Democratic Gov Jay Inslee's (a possible presidential candidate) failure to push through a carbon tax in his home state is shaping his approach to combating climate change. 
Ben Kamisar

Castro, Gabbard latest Dems to jump into 2020 race

This weekend brought two more Democratic candidates into the presidential race-former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. 

Castro's announcement had been thoroughly teased out-he announced an exploratory committee last month and made his intentions clear. But he followed through on Saturday when he declared in his hometown of San Antonio. 

Gabbard had been known to be mulling a bid too. But instead of a more scripted roll-out like the one Castro and others landed on, Gabbard told CNN on Friday during an interview that she is running, only after rolling out her campaign website and the other trappings of a bid. 

Castro has made it clear he's running as a progressive, telling Iowans during a trip last week that he's supporting universal healthcare and the "Green New Deal" environmental policies, as well as refusing to take corporate donations. 

Gabbard hasn't given many more details just yet, telling supporters in an email she's running on "building a movement for peace at home and abroad that will fulfill the promise of America for freedom, justice, equality." She has fans among those who supported Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016, thanks to her public break with the party to support him. But her stances on other issues, like gay rights and the Syrian conflict, have cost her support on the left too. 

Presidential potentials are making their case on Instagram Live

Potential 2020 candidate Beto O’Rourke grabbed the internet by surprise Thursday morning when he started posting Instagram videos from the dentist chair, the latest example of possible candidates taking to social media to expand their reach and connect with younger voters.

O’Rourke is no stranger to social media — he had a robust presence across platforms during his Texas senatorial bid. But the viral moment it prompted is indicative of an increasingly popular strategy among politician peers.

The former Texas Democratic congressmen’s video was the latest in a series of talking to people about life near the border. This video included his own dental hygienist, Diana.

After a close-up shot of the former Texas Congressman getting his teeth cleaned, O’Rourke turned to Diana, asking about her life on the border. “It’s a beautiful community” she responded, adding that it’s not what everybody thinks.

O’Rourke is far from the only candidate to bring the mundane to their social media followers in the hopes of connecting.

Shortly after announcing her candidacy on New Years Eve, Sen. Elizabeth Warren jumped headfirst into Instagram Live, streaming herself in her kitchen drinking beer and discussing her nascent campaign.

With 1.2 million followers, Warren has one of the biggest Instagram audiences among the potential 2020 field.

Another 2020 hopeful Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, tapped into Instagram’s potential for connecting with voters during his 2018 re-election campaign, answering questions his followers submitted using the app’s “questions” feature.

Brown answered questions about his favorite snacks and his dog Franklin, but stayed away from the deeper discussion other lawmakers have tried broadcasting.

Since the campaign, Brown has repeatedly taken to Instagram Live to talk about the issues like the ongoing government shutdown. But he still has a far way to go to catch some of his colleagues when it comes to reach on the platform, with less than 10,000 followers.

The strategy has been employed by a number of other politicians, including freshman New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who regularly streams herself cooking and chatting with followers.

Former  Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, another possible Democratic hopeful, reacted to O’Rourke’s video and the larger trend Thursday on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

“I think people are trying to get out, get their own way, you know trying to figure out what’s the best path way to do it and people are doing it in unique way,” he said.


Ben Kamisar

Sanders apologizes to women on 2016 campaign "who were harassed or mistreated"

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders is formally apologizing after multiple reports detailed allegations of harassment or inappropriate sexual conduct against Sanders' former 2016 presidential campaign staffers. 

Sanders addressed the reports during a press conference Thursday, subsequently issuing a statement on Twitter

"It now appears that as part of our campaign there were some women who were harassed or mistreated. I thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for speaking out. hat they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign or any campaign, should be about," Sanders said. 

"When we talk about ending sexism and all forms of discrimination those beliefs cannot just be words. They must be reality in our day to day lives and the work we do—and that was clearly not the case in the 2016 campaign. To the women in that campaign who were harassed or mistreated I apologize. Our standards and safeguards were inadequate." 

The comments came the morning after an unnamed former staffer told Politico that former Sanders convention floor leader Robert Becker made inappropriate sexual comments to her, grabbed her wrist, and forcibly kissed her.

In a statement to Politico, Becker said: "I categorically deny these allegations of improper and unprofessional conduct," adding that the accusation is "at odds with my recollection" of the evening in question, when Sanders staffers got together the final night of the Democratic National Convention. 

Late last year, Sanders' campaign issued a statement responding to a letter from former campaign staff that raised concerns about sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct that occurred during the campaign. In response to those concerns, Sanders' campaign said that it implemented "more robust policies and processes" during Sanders' 2018 Senate reelection campaign and that it continues to evaluate its policies. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: More primary state traveling

As the Democratic presidential field begins to swell, early-primary state voters will soon not be able to turn their head without catching a glimpse of a presidential hopeful (not to mention, turn on the TV without being innundated with ads). With more and more Democrats booking their winter travel plans, here's our latest roundup of the news from the trail. 

  • Elizabeth Warren heads to Manchester  this weekend for an organizing event, marking her first swing through the home of the "First in the Nation" primary since she announced she's exploring a presidential bid. New Hampshire is a key state on Warren's road to the Democratic nomination, considering the Massachusetts senator is from just a short drive away.
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is giving a speech at the Las Vegas "Battle Born Progress" summit on Saturday as well as he continues to consider a bid.   
  • A new Politico report has more details on accusations of harassment and assault during Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign. The new report quotes a former female staffer (quoted anonymously for her fear of reprisal) accusing a top Sanders aide of making lewd and sexual comments toward her during the Democratic National Convention, grabbing her wrists and forcibly kissing her. The accused staffer "categorically" denied the allegations in a statement to Politico, but the campaign told the outlet that he would "not be a part of any future campaigns." 
  • Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who once-upon-a-time dropped out of the 2016 presidential race with a call for unity around a candidate who could defeat Donald Trump, told Fox News that he's going to "help chair" the president's reelection campaign in Wisconsin. Trump's narrow victory in Wisconsin was integral to his Electoral College win, making it likely the state will turn into a key battleground once again in 2020. 
Ben Kamisar

Tom Steyer won't run for president, will spend millions on impeachment push instead

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has decided to forego a presidential bid, instead announcing he'll redouble his commitment to calling for President Trump's impeachment. 

Steyer had been stoking serious speculation about a presidential bid, posting LinkedIn ads for staff in early states and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads for his "Need to Impeach" group in key primary states. But during a speech in Iowa (a backdrop where candidates usually jump into the presidential place, not out of it), Steyer announced that he's out. 

Instead, he'll invest $40 million in that "Need to Impeach" effort, which has run ads and campaigns meant to convince Americans and lawmakers to support impeachment. 

Read more from NBC News' Allan Smith and Ali Vitali here

White House officials tell donors national security declaration is still on the table

In a call with GOP donors and surrogates Tuesday night, White House officials said President Donald Trump is still considering whether to declare a national emergency on the southern border if congressional Democrats stand firm in their refusal to fund his border wall.   

Asked by one participant if the controversial move was still on the table, Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp said "we have been working with the White House counsel to look into that," however, "our primary goal right now is to get this government re-opened and secure our border." 

NBC News listened to an audio recording of the call — held shortly after Trump’s address to the nation — obtained through a participant.

The president has said he  could declare a national emergency in order to build his long-promised border wall, but it's not immediately clear that he legally has that authority.

During the call, Schlapp praised the president for showing “incredible leadership in speaking to the American people” from the Oval Office. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also briefly joined the call, praising Trump and saying that he did “a spectacular job, particularly when you put that in contrast to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. I think we all saw why he’s president and they’re not tonight and thank God for it.”

Schlapp assessed that “Democrats made a huge mistake” calling the border situation a manufactured crisis, adding that “clearly the facts are on our side” on the issue. She maintained that the White House offered "common sense" solutions to both the border and shutdown situations.

Regarding the workers impacted by the government shutdown, Schlapp advised: “federal workers are caught in the middle of this, but they will be getting backpay. However, [the slain California officer’s wife] will never get her husband back.”

As far as the president's border trip on Thursday, callers were told that Trump would walk a piece of the border, as well as participate in a round table with some leaders and law enforcement. He may also meet with families impacted by violence by illegal immigrants, the administration official said. 

Warren leads first Daily Kos straw poll, Sanders in fifth

Daily Kos, the progressive blog that's long been a fixture on the left, is out with its first presidential straw poll of the 2020 cycle. 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the clear leader, with 22 percent, with former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders bunched up behind her. O'Rourke has 15 percent support, Harris and Biden are tied at 14 percent, and Sanders is at 11 percent. 

The progressive organization says it'll repeat the straw poll every two weeks, switching out the names of the bottom-two finishers. 

The poll isn't scientific—anyone who visited the Daily Kos website could vote (one vote per computer), and the blog told NBC News that it sent out the straw poll to a large segment of its email list to give it additional play.

But even with that caveat, there are some interesting takeaways here.

Unlike national polls that largely measure name ID this early on, the Daily Kos figures give a snapshot of what already-engaged progressive activists are thinking. What stood out the most to us, though, was the low standing for Bernie Sanders. It’s an alarm bell for his team that he’s struggling with folks who should be his ideological allies.

Sanders' standing is especially interesting considering the straw poll has been a good indicator of grassroots enthusiasm in the past.

The first Daily Kos straw poll of the 2008 cycle (conducted in June of 2007) had John Edwards leading, but with Barack Obama the only other candidate in the double-digits even as conventional wisdom pegged Hillary Clinton the far-and-away favorite. 

And last cycle, Sanders dominated the first straw poll (conducted in June of 2015) with 69 percent support at a time where the RealClearPolitics average of national polling had him at less than 12 percent. 

Ben Kamisar

Former Democratic congressional candidate launches voting rights group

California Democrat Andrew Janz, one of the top House fundraisers of the 2018 cycle, is leveraging that political network into a new organization focused on voting rights. 

Janz's Voter Protection Project, which he announced Wednesday morning, will work both to help rally support ballot initiatives in the key electoral battlegrounds as well as to support candidates who share his views on the issue.

His priorities include: automatic voter registration, online voter registration, same day registration, expanding early voting and absentee voting, ensuring states devote enough resources to polling places, as well as re-enfranchising felons who have finished prison terms. 

“During my campaign for Congress it became very clear that our Democracy is at risk. It is facing a direct assault from President Trump, Devin Nunes and Republicans across this country who are actively trying to dismantle it,” Janz said in a statement. “We will fight back against every attack on our right to vote by leading the charge to make sure every American -- young Americans, people of color, and disenfranchised communities -- have the right to cast a ballot.” 

Janz, a Fresno County prosecutor, gained traction for his bid Nunes, then the head of the House Intelligence Committee. The Democrat was able to harness Democratic frustration with the way Nunes handled the committee's investigation into possible Russian collusion in the 2016 election.

Janz raised more than $9 million during the cycle, more than all but four House candidates (not including self-funders. But Nunes capitalized on the outsized interest on his race too, raising $12.6 million and defeating Janz by almost 6 percentage points. 

Now, the Democrat is hoping to lean on that fundraising network to help power his new group, one of the handful of Democratic-aligned groups looking to back candidates and ballot measures meant to expand voting access. 

Ben Kamisar

Steyer announces an announcement

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who has spearheaded a multi-million dollar effort calling for the impeachment of President Trump will make an unspecified announcement about his "political plans for 2019 and beyond" during an event in Iowa on Wednesday.

Steyer spent the first two years of the Trump administration vocally calling for Trump's impeachment while also helping to turn out young voters to the polls in key congressional races across the country. 

He's made no secret about flirting with a presidential bid, and those efforts helped him compile a huge email list that could be helpful for a future bid. 

If he runs, Steyer would be one of a handful of candidates who have made combating climate change a central issue.

As a billionaire, he'd be able to give his campaign a very helpful head-start by using his own personal wealth on a campaign.

But other than his massive wealth, he's charted a more progressive path for his potential bid than the other billionaires in the mix—former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who continues to weigh a bid, and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who announced his campaign last year. 

While his deep pockets will be an instant asset, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez announced last month that future debate criteria will include grassroots fundraising figures as well. 

Castro disavows PAC money ahead of potential 2020 run

CORALVILLE, Iowa — Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro leaned in to a progressive pitch to voters here Monday night, saying he would push for universal healthcare, a Green New Deal, and disavow PAC money if he entered the 2020 race for president.

The policy prescriptions are all part of his unofficial pitch for president. Castro has not officially announced his candidacy, but repeatedly teased his upcoming Saturday announcement where he says he'll share more about his future plans.

"Starting on Saturday," he said, he plans to "be talking about my vision for the future." 

Castro, who served as HUD Secretary to President Barack Obama, would enter what's expected to be a crowded field of Democrats vying to take on President Donald Trump in November 2020. Speaking from the corner of a cozy living room packed with anxious Democratic voters, Castro ticked off a progressive check list on a variety of litmus test issues like healthcare. 

"There is no reason...that in the richest nation on Earth anybody should go without healthcare," Castro said at the Iowa living room meet-and-greet. "I believe that we need universal healthcare. That we should do Medicare for all in this country."

Castro also echoed a promise made by another fellow Democrat exploring a 2020 run, Senator Elizabeth Warren: not to take money from political action committees — and challenging other would-be candidates to do the same. 

That promise was met with some consternation from one man in the crowd, afraid that Castro would be — as the candidate re-phrased it — "bringing a knife to a gun fight." 

"The people are more powerful than the PAC," Castro rebutted, eliciting cheers. 

Asked about climate change, the former HUD Secretary said he wanted to bring the U.S. back into the Paris Climate Agreement and that it would be the first executive order he signed as president. And on talk of a Green New Deal pushed by progressive grassroots groups, Castro said "we should do that." 

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Harris stepping into spotlight

The holidays are in the rear-view mirror and that means the likely Democratic presidential field is gearing up for presidential bids, whether they say so or not. 

As the highest-profile (all-but) candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro have so far had room to tout their own would-be candidacies. But that's bound to change soon, as all of those who said they were spending their holidays deciding whether to run presumably did just that. 

Here's the latest roundup of the news on the 2020 front: 

  • California Sen. Kamala Harris, one of the many Democrats who said they'd take the holidays to decide on a presidential bid, is stepping out into the presidential spotlight this week as she launches her memoir. The book launch in the off-year is a tried-and-true strategy for candidates to pressure-test their message and win some buzz ahead of a true presidential launch. Harris previewed the book Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" where she called for leaders to have a "vision of the future" but said she isn't "going to decide right now" whether to run. 
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, fresh off his bid against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that raised his profile, is planning a road trip from his home in El Paso as he considers a presidential bid. 
  • There are a lot of interesting implications of the Democratic Party's new primary schedule, which includes California moving to Super Tuesday. But one important one is that Latinos will have more power in the primary process, since Latino-heavy states like Texas and California will start accepting mail-in ballots even earlier. Read Suzanne Gamboa's new piece for more.
Ben Kamisar

Clinton jabs at 'likeability' questions about female candidates

With the early weeks of the shadow 2020 Democratic primary bringing up the age-old questions about the "likeability" of female politicians, Hillary Clinton is weighing in. 

Clinton, the first female presidential nominee from a major party, pointed to the "amazing women officials in the audience today" when she referenced that debate during a Monday speech at an event held by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

"There’s been a lot of talk recently about whether our country is ready for women leaders. Now that really takes me back—but today, I want to thank all of you for your persistence," she said during an appearance with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday. 

"I know many of you and can can attest as to how smart, determined, effective and, dare I say, likable you all are."

The debate, which followed Clinton during her own 2016 presidential race, is heating up again now that Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren is telegraphing a bid of her own. 

A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Warren's favorability underwater with American voters, Republicans and Independents. But many Democrats have come to Warren's defense to argue that those numbers are a result of sexism and an unfair perception that has long dogged female candidates. 

Check out Chuck Todd and the "Meet the Press" panel addressing the issue during Sunday's broadcast. 


2020 roundup: Warren finishes first major Iowa swing

With a possible field of Democratic presidential hopefuls numbering in the dozens, there's no shortage of news nuggets and behind the scenes machinations. Here's some of the latest news from the trail. 

  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is taking advantage of her early (all-but) entry into the 2020 field. As the highest-profile Democrat that's closest to a bid, Warren hit the trail for five events in Iowa over three days. NBC News' Alex Seitz-Wald followed Warren to the Hawkeye State, penning this report on how she "introduced herself as more personable than Bernie Sanders, her progressive frenemy, and more fiery and populist than other top potential candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden."
  • The New York Times reports  that former Vice President Joe Biden is concerned that he's the only Democrat who can beat President Trump in 2020. But how will that messaging play with Democrats who believe the party's growing gender and racial diversity is one of its best contrast with the GOP, or with those who see the Sun Belt and diversifying suburbs, not the blue-collar Midwest, as home to the party's best opportunity to grow?
  • Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee appeared on MSNBC's "Kasie DC" on Sunday night, where he teased travel to New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada in the "near future." Watch more from the interview below.